Sunday, 12 February 2012

Anyone Up for a Wild Goose Chase?

Who knew you could chase wild geese, literally?  Last week, in Florida I had a figurative wild goose chase, as I twice drove to the middle of nowhere in Hillsborough County in search of the Fork-tailed Flycatcher.  Normally when you are on a wild goose chase, I don't picture anyone actually chasing geese.

So, on my return to the cold of Canada and Toronto, why not just go out and chase wild geese, for real?  And so I did.  It was bitterly cold, the wind was blowing, so naturally I stood outside freezing, with tears running down my cheeks from the cold as I scanned the icy waters as my binoculars fogged up.

I spent the morning at Professor's Lake in Brampton in search of a Ross's Goose.  Scanning hundreds of geese, ducks and gulls for the elusive white goose with the orange beak.  I hoped I could just hop out of the car, walk over to the spot where the goose had been seen last, grab a quick picture and be back in my warm car in no time.  No such luck.  They don't call it a wild goose chase for nothing.  So I scanned the water from one end to the other.  The goose was not close.  Do I go back to the car and get my scope?  Wait, is that something white across the way?  Well, maybe I will walk toward it and see if I can get a closer look.  There seemed to be a large field at the edge of the lake, so I figured I'd just walk across the snow, slowly so as not to alarm the geese.

I took a few short steps.  Okay, good.  Getting closer.  Then I heard a slight crack under my boot.  Not good.  I was on ice.  Perhaps thin ice.  Okay, bad.  It wasn't a field, it was a frozen lake.  Oops.  So, I slowly, lightly, retraced my steps and decided that chasing geese on the ice was a little too wild for me.  I walked around the bike path this time, trying to get a better angle on the bird.  Now it appeared that there was a lump of snow with a carrot sticking out of it, about a hundred yards away.  I focused the lens, tried to shake away the fog and wipe the tears from my eyes.  Focus... focus...  Yes, that indeed was my goose.  But too far away to get a good photo unless I got my scope.  So I decided to get closer.  I spied a photographer across the way with a super-duper long lens, and figured no one would be crazy enough to be out here with a camera just to look at regular old Canada Geese.  No chasing required for them.

I jumped in the car, blasted the heater and drove around to the other side.  Except, I really only moved myself about halfway closer, so I had to jog the rest of the way around to the two other birders.  Now I had my bird.  Except it was asleep, with it's head tucked away from us.  I had seen its beak from the opposite side, so could only get a photo of a sleeping Goose.

Oh, and low and behold, who was there but the birder I had met in Kortright Conservation Area at the end of January, searching for the Purple Finch.  And he was there in Puslinch the day I found the Mountain Blue Bird.  Hmmmmm.  Someone else doing a Big Year?  Very interesting.  Well, it's fun to have competition.  It will be fun to see if we keep running into each other.

Anyway, I had a brunch to get to, so couldn't wait for the goose to awake.  I got my bird, got my photo and rushed off to lunch.

After a very good Sunday Brunch with Sue, and with a full tummy and warmed insides, I got back into my layers of long underwear and lined cargo pants and 2 shirts and a warm fleece jacket, my scarf, toque, gloves and magic hand warmers,(they heat up in your pocket when you squeeze an aluminum disk inside the secret liquid packet).   I got back in the car for the third time today, and drove to Whitby Harbour where my Year began on another unsuccessful wild goose chase, that time for a Smew.

And wouldn't you know it, this one was pretty easy.  Sort of.  I arrived as another birder was leaving, and yet another birder had the Greater White-fronted Goose in her scope.  Oh, had I mentioned that the White-fronted had eluded me on 3 or 4 other chases to Lasalle Park in Burlington?  Well, this wild goose chase ended after a few seconds as I got a great look at the bird through the nice lady's telescope.  Yes it was actually a telescope, not a spotting scope and it worked quite well.

Now for the picture.  Not so much.  The moment I took my eye off the scope the bird seemed to dematerialize into the late afternoon mist.  Actually, it just tucked its head in and went to sleep.  And slept, and slept.  I found it again in the scope, then put my camera up and found it, sleeping again.  This time I had it centred in my camera lens.  Sleeping.  My fingers started to burn with cold.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.  I lost the bird.  My new friend, a school teacher, had to leave to grade papers.  I was on my own.

And the bird still slept.  And it drifted and drifted, behind some trees.  Now I had to reposition myself.  I cut through the dead trees and bushes.  My movement behind them pushed the birds back out into the harbour.  Score one for me.  And yet another birder arrived.  This gentleman was fresh from seeing the Ross's Goose in Brampton.  This was a day for chasing wild geese.  Who knew?

We both stood there in the cold, tears streaming down our cheeks, our lenses fogging up yet again, and my new companion spotted the goose.  Yah!  Head up, great.  I got it in my binoculars.  Beautiful bird.  Got the camera up to my eyes.  Head down.  Sleeping again.  I had activated my hand warmers.  I warmed my hands.  Kept my eye on the goose.  I would not be beat.  I got the sleepy goose in my camera lens and finally, finally, he raised his head for just a few moments, as I rattled off some photos.  Whew!  He went back to sleep.  I left the new gentleman to wait for it to awake once more.

As a bonus, I got a good photo of a Cackling Goose, to go along with the hundreds of Canada Geese.  If I was doing a Canada Goose Big Year, I'd be in the thousands by now.  So birds in the hand and photos in the camera, I headed back to my car, but no need to blast the heater.  I was pretty warm from the fun of the chase.

One day, four geese, lots of wild goose chasing fun, and 190 Big Year Birds.

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